When James Konopack, PhD, was offered the position of dean of Salus University’s College of Health Sciences, Education and Rehabilitation (CHER)
, one of his first thoughts was, disciplinarily speaking, it would be a homecoming of sorts for him.
“My background has been in the health sciences, particularly exercise science and health. I’ve just had this brief sojourn into the world of a business school for the past couple of years, so this is very much coming back home to the health sciences,” said Dr. Konopack.
He will start his new position as the first dean of the newly formed CHER on Sept. 15, 2020.
For the past two years, Dr. Konopack — who earned his PhD in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Exercise Psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign — has been the associate dean in the School of Business at New Jersey City University in Jersey City, New Jersey. Among his duties there included strategic planning, development and implementation of school policies, budget management, staff management and leadership of accreditation-related activities.
Prior to that, he served as associate dean of the Marjorie K. Unterberg School of Nursing and Health Studies at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey; as department chairperson; and as NCAA Facility Athletics Representative (FAR), also at Monmouth University.
In advance of his visit to the Elkins Park campus during the interview process, Dr. Konopack already had a pretty good idea what he was going to find when he arrived.
“I had done the virtual online tour,” he said. “I like the fact that it’s small enough where I could literally just go for a walk at lunch and see most of the people who are around. The thing that I love most is walking around and getting to know people. That, to me, is the one thing that is disappointing about coming back in the time of COVID-19 is that not everyone is going to be around, so I’m not going to get to have those impromptu social visits.”
Dr. Konopack has tried to find some silver linings to being a higher education administrator in the era of COVID-19, though. And, he believes Zoom meetings have provided an opportunity to remain connected with people in ways he may not have been able to do previously.
“There’s a bit of a tradeoff there. One of the ways that I found is that I’ve gotten to know a lot of our adjunct professors a lot better than I did when we were still 100 percent face-to-face,” he said. “Because they can come on a Zoom at 5 p.m. and I can, too, and it doesn’t matter where we are. Folks who normally teach a lab or a recitation session at 7:30 p.m. at night, you can still talk to them when you’re not in the same physical space.”
Among Dr. Konopack’s short-term goals is to bring the new College together and to pursue getting an orthotics and prosthetics program up and running.
“I want to try to help everyone at CHER coalesce as a college. After that, there’s the orthotics and prosthetics program that’s been through the approvals and now it’s up to us to get the thing off the ground,” he said. “That’s one of the tangible goals within the first year, to get that program up and running and to add that to the portfolio of this new college.”
As for long-term goals, Dr. Konopack would like to bring the alumni closer to the University and help increase the private support and gifts to the school.
And, he’s anxious to begin his journey at Salus.
“The opportunity to work with graduate students and the faculty who are teaching and training and mentoring them, is special,” said Dr. Konopack. “To work with folks who are really, truly doing things that will benefit the health and well-being of others is just fantastic. It’s something you can really, truly feel good about. And, I’m excited to get back into that.”
The feeling is mutual.
“I am very excited that Dr. Konopack is joining Salus as inaugural dean of the new College of Health Sciences, Education and Rehabilitation,” said Barry Eckert, PhD, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs. “His skills and experience will be a tremendous asset to the new college. I look forward to working with him.”